Sven Giegold
Member of the European Parliament – Greens/EFA Group

Speaker of the German Green Delegation

Citizenship for sale in Cyprus: EU-passports for criminals, money launderers and corrupt politicians from around the world

Dear friends, dear interested,

The sale of European citizenships in Cyprus is a significant security risk for the EU and opens Europe to criminals. What had been feared for a long time has now been confirmed by a report by Al Jazeera for the case of Cyprus. The journalists have analysed leaked data from over 1400 applications for the so-called Citizenship-by-Investment Programme from 2017 to 2019. Anyone who invests at least 2.15 million euros in the country, e.g. buying real estate or companies, can apply for Cypriot citizenship. Most applicants came from Russia, Ukraine and China. Since the start of the programme in 2013, more than 7 billion euros have flowed into the country. With an EU passport from Cyprus, the investor citizens enjoy all European fundamental freedoms including freedom of movement, freedom of establishment and access to European capital markets without special security checks. In addition to programmes for EU passports as in the current revelations, there are also numerous investor programmes for residence permits, so-called Golden Visas, which also pose a threat to internal security.

Among the new citizens from 70 countries are convicted criminals, money launderers and political figures suspected of corruption. Many of them should not have been granted a passport even under Cypriot law. Convicted and wanted persons or persons under investigation are formally excluded from the programme under the Cypriot rules which were tightened in 2019. However, Cyprus does not seem to take the enforcement of these rules particularly serious. Between 2013 and 2018, only 2% of applicants were rejected. Nor do the Cypriot authorities seem to be systematically consulting Europol and Interpol databases on the background of applicants, but accept background checks from their countries of origin submitted by the applicants themselves in order to prove their clean record.

The sale of civil rights poses a serious threat to our security and the fight against corruption in the EU. The revelations from Cyprus show for whom investor programmes for visa and citizenship are interesting. EU passports and visas are not a commodity. Money must not be the criterion for citizenship and residence rights in the EU. It is welcome that EU Commissioner Reynders now wants to examine possible steps in response to the Cypriot revelations. It is high time for infringement proceedings against Cyprus on the basis of the EU treaties (Article 4.3 TEU). The sale of citizenships and visas contradicts the duty of all EU member states to work together sincerely.

For far too long criminal money has been flowing into Europe through residence and citizenship programmes of some careless EU member states and endangers internal security. For Malta’s investor programmes, too, we have long called for infringement proceedings by the Commission. With the Al Jazeera report, new facts for Cyprus are now on the table. We Greens will propose to put the issue on the agenda of the plenary of the European Parliament in October. I will also follow up with written questions. The investigations of the old Juncker Commission on this unpleasant topic were completely unsatisfactory and did not lead to any improvements.

With green European greetings,

Sven Giegold

 

Links to reports by Al Jazeera (incl. video): 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=legbFsHjPuk

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/exclusive-cyprus-sold-passports-criminals-fugitives-200818112722072.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/cyprus-dirty-secrets-200826090745657.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/eu-justice-chief-mulls-legal-action-cyprus-golden-passports-200827130814699.html

P.S.: Save the Date! Italian-German webinar on “Funding the Corona Recovery by curbing tax dumping and money laundering” with Finance Ministers Scholz (Germany) und Gualtieri (Italy) on Wednesday, 30.9.2020 7-8pm. Register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Tt9-EIA_Q9-1eC_QetcPCg